The states of Tabasco and Chiapas, in southernmost Mexico, are largely covered in jungle and rainforest. In pre-Classic times (before A.D. 300) a large part of this area was homeland to Mexico's "mother culture," the Olmec, who in many ways gave form to the cultural development of the civilizations that would come afterward. And in both pre-Classic and Classic times (A.D. 300-900) this was the homeland of the Maya, whose descendants still populate the region. The ruins that these people left behind, as well as the villages of the present-day Maya, attract many visitors to this region: the giant stone heads of the Olmec, the ancient ceremonial centers of the Maya, such as Palenque and Toniná, and the living Maya cultures of both highland and lowland Chiapas.

The lowland jungle with its high canopy offers a tremendous variety of flora and fauna. Placid lakes dot the land and provide the only open vistas in this densely packed landscape. The mountainous central highlands of Chiapas are also thickly forested and often shrouded in mist. Rivers, including Mexico's two largest, the Grijalva and the Usumacinta, cut their way down to the lowlands, through rugged canyons and tumbling waterfalls. And the cool mountain air feels refreshing after the heat and humidity of the lowlands.

Tabasco is a small, oil-rich state along the Gulf Coast. The capital, Villahermosa, is the main port of entry into this region. It has a boomtown feel and an intriguing history. But the large state of Chiapas holds the greater number of attractions. In its eastern lowland jungle is the ancient ceremonial center of Palenque. Near the border with Guatemala are the smaller but dramatic sites of Yaxchilán and Bonampak. Between these lowlands and the central highlands are many waterfalls and rapids as well as the ruins of Toniná. Located high in the mountains and surrounded by Indian communities is the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, with its beautiful old town and market center.

Weather Watching -- In the past 6 years, one or another part of Tabasco has been inundated by flooding every year. This flooding has caused lengthy delays for travelers trying to get from Veracruz to the Yucatán or vice versa. In some cases it's taken weeks to clear the highway. Most of the flooding has occurred in Villahermosa and the western part of the state, so check the forecast before heading down to Tabasco.